For malaria transmission, the parasite must undergo sexual differentiation into mature gametocytes. However, the molecular basis for this critical transition in the parasites life cycle is unknown. Six previously uncharacterized genes, Pfg14.744, Pfg14.745, Pfg14.748, Pfg14.763, Pfg14.752 and Pfg6.6 that are members of a 36 gene Plasmodium falciparum-specific subtelomeric superfamily were found to be expressed in parasites that are committed to sexual development as suggested by co-expression of Pfs16 and Pfg27. Northern blots demonstrated that Pfg14.744 and Pfg14.748 were first expressed before the parasites differentiated into morphologically distinct gametocytes, transcription continued to increase until stage II gametocytes were formed and then rapidly decreased. Immunofluorescence assays indicated that both proteins were only produced in the subpopulation of ring stage parasites that are committed to gametocytogenesis and both localized to the parasitophorous vacuole (PV)(b) of the early ring stage parasites. As the parasites continued to develop Pfg14.748 remained within the parasitophorous vacuole, while Pfg14.744 was detected in the erythrocyte. The 5' flanking region of either gene alone was sufficient to drive early gametocyte specific expression of green fluorescent protein (GFP). In parasites transfected with a plasmid containing the Pfg14.748 5' flanking region immediately upstream of GFP, fluorescence was observed in a small number of schizonts the cycle before stage I gametocytes were observed. This expression pattern is consistent with commitment to sexual differentiation prior to merozoite release and erythrocyte invasion. Further investigation into the role of these genes in the transition from asexual to sexual differentiation could provide new strategies to block malaria transmission. (c) 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.